I have a huge affinity for 1940’s-1950’s period flicks. I don’t know what it is really. The attitude of the era, the aesthetic look, and the romantic sentiment of the period all come together to make a perfect Shaun concoction. Whether they’re movies or stories written in that time period, or it’s a modern take on the “old world,” something about it really just speaks to me. In my opinion, the best representation of this period, in movies at least, is cop dramas. Tough guys, dames, booze, crooked cops, righteous men, and, of course, guns all come together in these types of stories. They basque in stereotypes, but for some reason it feels less egregious than if it were taking place in the modern era. A lot of that has to do with historical context, obviously, and becomes more of a commentary on the times and how far we’ve come as a people. Well, at least, to most people that’s the way it is. Know that we live in a nation full of nothing more than “knee jerk” reactions rather than thoughtful response, I’m becoming worried that these stories might not make it into existence in the coming years, but I digress. That’s a whole different discussion. Maybe next time I have a little too much to drink and become irate about the state of the world I’ll write it down instead of bothering my girlfriend… What were we talking about? Oh yeah. I like period cop dramas. So, when I heard about Gangster Squad I was pretty excited. It had been awhile since one of these pictures came out.
When I first heard about this flick I had some “hopes” for what it would be. My mind immediately went to L.A. Confidential, which is, in my opinion, one of the best movies of this type ever made. If you disagree, then you’re wrong. Moving on… So, I definitely had some preconceptions about this movie, or what I wanted the movie to be, really. I had made a lot of assumptions about it, and that is kind of the worst way to go into a movie, in my opinion. Assumptions make us closed minded if it doesn’t fit into our imagined criteria of quality.
I eventually saw the trailer, and I immediately was put off. It wasn’t fitting what I wanted it to be. It looked like a by the numbers action movie, that was desperately trying to be “cool,” and failing too. I was almost flippant and indignant about it. I was falling victim to something I hate in “nerd culture,” a fucking entitled attitude. God damn’t there is nothing worse than that, in my mind. Nerds are getting their day in the spotlight, becoming trendy, and what not, but you know what? They’ve inherited the “pop culture” earth, and they too have ended up being douche-bags. Just on the other end of the traditional douche-bag spectrum… Sorry about that. I’m a ranter, and I’ve had a lot of coffee today… I saw this in myself, and quickly tried to get rid of these feelings by repeatedly punching myself in the face. I don’t know if the whole punching myself in the face thing helped, but my mind went to a different place soon after I did. “Well, maybe it’s just the marketing. They’ve got to get butts in the seats, you know?” Oh, past Shaun… What a fool you were. You’re a pretty smart guy. Just trust yourself sometimes.
If you can’t tell yet(Really? You haven’t caught on yet?), I found Gangster Squad to be fairly disappointing. Now, that’s not to say that it’s terrible, or anything, but it’s something that might be, in a way, worse. It’s forgettable. I only watched this movie a few days ago, and I’m struggling to remember anything about it. It’s a movie that has all the superficial trappings of a period cop drama, but none of the substance. Like I said before, these stories have usually are filled with cliches, and that’s to be expected, but Gangster Squad does absolutely nothing with them. The characters aren’t characters, they are caricatures. You never really learn all that much about them beyond superficial stereotype stuff, and it makes it difficult to care. They’re is nothing interesting about any of them, and they never feel more real than two dimensional comic book characters. Everything about them is rote and mediocre, across the board.
The performances in the film vary from mediocre to totally forgettable. With the exception of Sean Penn, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. He thinks he’s in a different movie, although, it’s not totally his fault. He’s written like he’s in a different movie. He looks like a Dick Tracy villain, and has the dialogue of a Roger Moore era Bond villain. Seriously, every time he’s on screen he goes into a monologue about how evil he is, and constantly reiterates his belief that L.A. is his “destiny.” In true Sean Penn fashion, he chews through the scenery, and it feels like he’s just serving his own narcissism rather than the film he’s in. At least he leaves an impression though. I can’t say that about anybody else in this film. Everyone else is totally serviceable, but they don’t do anything interesting with their characters, but again, it’s not totally their fault. Every part is under written, and even the “lead” characters( Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling) get short changed. They try to add some color to their lives, but the movie doesn’t really have any interest in exploring their dispositions. So, they end up being as forgettable as everyone else. I mean, it’s kind of sad when you have Robert Patrick playing an old school cowboy type, and you do nothing with him. For shame, movie! For shame… I mean, fuck, Gangster Squad, you even have Nick Nolte in you, and I had totally forgot about him until just now. Blech!
The writing in this movie isn’t particularly great. I would actually like to read the script for this, because I have a feeling the tone of the script is probably pretty far removed from what ended up on the screen. The events of the movie are very episodic in a way, and don’t always flow very well. It’s easy to kind of get lost in the events, not “immersed” mind you, I mean literally just lost(Also, not like the show…). It has a almost disjointed feel to the narrative, often taking long stretches of time to focus on things that end up being ultimately inconsequential. There is a bunch of sub-plots going on in this movie and none of them are all that effective, or even get payed off at all. It feels like a combination of bad writing and poor pacing. They probably had a much longer and unfocused movie, and then stripped it to it’s bare essentials. It’s under two hours, but it felt like an eternity, and I’m thankful if they did in fact edit this mother down.
There is one positive aspect about this movie that’s worth mentioning. The art direction in this film is really fantastic. The costumes, and the sets compliment each other in such a way that every frame of this movie really pops, leaving the largest impression. It’s lit and framed like a movie from old Hollywood, and is definitely successful in recreating the style of a movie made in that time period. It also has an almost comic book like way about it. It’s the way the colors pop. It reminded me immediately of Dick Tracy, and if there was a realistic take on that character I imagine it would look a lot like this.
I can’t really recommend Gangster Squad(Sorry, dog.). Not even as just a rental. It’s too forgettable, and there has to be something better you could put that five bucks towards. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s so ineffective at creating any type of emotion that it’s ultimately just a total waste of time. So, take your money and go rent or buy L.A. Confidential, or maybe go play L.A. Noire if you’re a gamer, to scratch that period cop drama itch that you didn’t know you had.